The shinkansen of this year-long writing course has finally pulled into the terminus, all grades are submitted and all drafts polished into their final versions. It’s a satisfying feeling to have taken my wonderful young women writers in Japan by the hand on this writing journey. It has needed courage and hard work to make it to the end, but that is exactly what writing is all about.
As writers, we have to believe above all else that the sentences and paragraphs we formulate within the accepted conventions of writing are worthy of the attention of our readers. Of course, there is a kind of Glass Ceiling for foreign writers of English to break through, as well as that still to be found in sectors of education, commerce and government. The foreign writer’s glass ceiling is made thick and opaque by the perfections of grammatical structures, forests of punctuation symbols, topics, introductions and conclusions, all compacted like arctic-ice. At times, you may have wondered how you could ever break through its denseness.
But I have found it to be true that non-verbal ‘courage’ and ‘self-belief’ will always burn through such barriers. They go beyond culture and mother-tongue, beyond class and gender, because we are all part of the human family. The challenge of magically transforming ideas, notions, views and perspectives, into ‘running ants’ on a page created with ink, is enormous, especially when they are a species of ant you are not familiar with. You may wonder why I refer to words as ‘running ants.’ As you may imagine, and as usual, I have a story to tell about this.
20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to be a world traveller for two years. I packed a ruck sack with my essential belongings, sold or stored everything else, and set off for the adventure of my life! Of course, many things happened to me: some wonderful, some shocking, some which would change my life entirely. One such life-changing episode happened deep in the south Australian desert where I was given the opportunity to participate in a Rotary Club project. Our mission was to help a tribe of aboriginals move back into traditional life deep in their precious aboriginal lands, which white fella cannot easily survive in because it is so hot. In fact, it is the hottest place on earth!
So, after flying over desert ditches for 13 hours, being thrown around in a land-cruiser and almost choking on red desert dust, we arrived at the settlement, and were greeted by the female leader of the tribe, Ninija. People said that she was around 120 years old, and as soon as I met her, I knew my life was going to change.
She was tiny, black-skinned, ginger-haired, and so powerful spiritually. We became very close, and in fact she immediately regarded me as her assistant and her scribe. Eventually, through broken English and an interpreter, we were able to communicate very meaningfully and I realized that Ninija had more wisdom than anyone I had ever met. She set about teaching me so many things about desert life, healing and bush medicines, and much much more.
Then one day, as we set off deeper into the Lands without roads or communication of any kind, Ninija and her people virtually naked and barefoot, she called me to her and told me that she had a story she wanted to tell ‘white-fella,’ the name she had for all white civilized people, and that I must write it down so they could read it. In the cool of hand-built shade shelters built by the women of the tribe, as we rested in the middle of the day because it was too hot to walk, she would tell me her messages for white-fella and I would write them down in a notebook with pen and ink.
She laughed so hard when I first wrote on the thin flat white page, screaming out ‘running ants, running ants,’ as I scribbled. Ninija and her people do not know how to write or read the way we do, and they have no need to. All their stories and songs are handed down from one generation to another and perfectly memorized!
So, stories and songs are so important to Ninija and her people, and indeed to all indigenous peoples. They are filled with wisdom, which leaves our civilized modern wisdom way behind. Ninija could not understand how my people could get her message through ‘running ant’ marks on a page, but she trusted me to make it possible. And so I did. One day, I hope you can read her story in my Australian novel, ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy,’ and maybe her messages will go running into your imagination and give you courage and determination to break through all ceilings which may appear from time to time in your life. I very much hope so.
I feel so proud of your achievements during this year. Please go on writing forever, and realize that the written word has the power to reach people in a way that nothing else can.